‘Go On’: The five E-Z stages of grief
By Hank Stuever,
Are you about ready for the fall TV shows? No?
Well, me neither!
But NBC, apparently well-Tefloned against complaints these days about its time-delayed and schmaltzed-out prime-time Olympics coverage, has decided that because you’re all in such a good mood, you deserve a special treat Wednesday night: a premature debut of the new Matthew Perry comedy, “Go On.” It’s about a sarcastic, egotistical sports radio host (Perry) who is forced by management to attend 10 sessions of group therapy because he has not properly grieved the sudden death of his wife, which happened a month earlier. And, oh, the hilarity we often find in profound loss, right?
So, go on. When 11:04 p.m. rolls around and the Olympics stop for a half-hour, rip Matthew Perry apart limb from limb. Jab him with your Twitter pitchforks. While I’m not about to hurl myself in front of the angry mob to defend “Go On,” let me just say that you could (and will) do a whole lot worse with this fall’s crop.
It’s worth noting that Perry seems to have found — at long last — the right kind of setup for his often appealing, yet limited, comic-ironic range. Save for David Schwimmer, it’s been a surprisingly fallow period for this particular “Friends” alum, who can certainly afford to be as choosy as he wants about his work but pretty much always winds up in another iteration of Chandler Bing. Perry’s well-intentioned flops include co-starring in Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” back in 2006 and starring and producing last year’s “Mr. Sunshine,” which proved once and for all that comedies about the day-to-day operations of an old sports arena just don’t work.
“Go On,” however, moves quite breezily — much like an NBC-flavored take on premium cable dramadies such as “The Big C” and “Enlightened.” It’s not as good as either of those, but it has the same happy-sad aura, with just a dash of “Community”-like absurdity to keep the speed limit up. Perry and his supporting cast appear to be having great fun, which is often the hardest thing to convey in a pilot episode.
When Perry’s character, Ryan King, reports to his “Transitions: LifeChange” group-therapy sessions, he encounters a ragtag ensemble of heartbroken misfits you’ve come to expect in post-modern comedy: a mournful cat lady; an angry lesbian; a bearded creepo; an emotionally distant teenager; a control freak; a cuckolded military man. The therapist is running late, so Ryan decides to turn the session into a bracket playoff — “March Sadness” — in which each participant gets a frantic five seconds to share his or her loss and see if it’s worse than their competitor’s grief.
The new-agey therapist (Laura Benanti) arrives and disapproves of Ryan’s cheekiness. He pronounces himself cured, and she signs his treatment log to be rid of him.
But as we learned in sitcom pilot training, this thing won’t fly without a premise. Through a sequence of events involving football player Terrell Owens and a projectile fruit basket, Ryan quickly discovers that he might need some counseling after all. He returns, humbled, to the circle of chairs. It’s “Go On” and so on . . .
(30 minutes) special premiere following Olympic coverage, 11:04 p.m. Wednesday on NBC. Regular season premiere is Sept. 11.